Saturday, December 12, 2009


Pierogi are one of my favorite frugal recipes that I make. Not only are they delicious but they are very versatile. They can be boiled , deep fried or sauteed and can be filled with everything from sauerkraut , to meat or potatoes.They can be served as a main dish or side dish and in a myriad of ways from plain to extravagant. I have served pierogi with butter and cheese, tomatoes sauces, salsas and gravies. The worst part about making them is it is a bit time consuming to roll, fill and close allof them up. It makes a good afternoon family project and they freeze very well

Tonight I made mashed potato pierogi's with garlic and cheese as a one dish meal. I took a few pieces of bacon browned them up and crumbled. I then sauteed 2 large onions and two cups of chopped cabbage.When onions and cabbage were near tender I sliced two apples up and added that to the cabbage mixture and crumbled the bacon in. Heat through and serve over the pierogis.

2½ cups of flour
1 tsp salt
1 egg
2 tbs. sour cream
½ cup lukewarm water
Mix all ingredients together, and knead a bit. The dough should not be very smooth, and it should be quite sticky. Let stand covered for 1/2 hour before using. Take either all, or a portion of the dough, and roll it out until it is 1/16" thick. You will have to use plenty of flour to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin and rolling surface . Cut in to circles or squares and fill . Seal pocket completely and cook as desired.

Here is the site I get my dough recipe from. They have several recipes on different fillers for the pierogi and goes into much more detailed instruction.

bad bunnies

Here are a few pictures of the bunnies. They have been living warren style in with the hen's since soon after I pulled them off of mama. Don't ask why they are living warren style, that is another post entirely . They should also be butchered by now but because they are rogue rabbits they are not the easiest to catch. They have finally learned that I am the food provider and can now pet them. Too bad the only time I will handle them again is to scoop them up to be butchered off. Yes, yes, rabbits shouldn't be in with chickens according to some schools of thought. My thought is there are five hens in a very well kept 600 sf area so am not worried with contamination . This is not a permanent solution but one of getting new hutches built and the weather cooperating.

basics of gardening

The next step in the process of building your first garden is the actual design of what sort of beds and methods that you will be using. Depending on your location and soil type as well as the ultimate goals you have for your garden one type or another may be better suited to your needs. Perhaps a blend of a couple styles is more suited for you. Investigate a little bit more into styles that pique your interest and go from there in making your decisions.

traditional single row planting
Planting in neat, tidy rows allows for good air circulation, easy weeding and easy harvesting, but single rows of plants take up more space than wide rows thus somewhat limits how much one can grow in a small area.

wide row planting
Wide rows are when you plant long blocks of vegetables Width of rows varies but is normally 2-4 foots wide. Rows shouldn’t be so wide that you can’t comfortable reach into the center of them, from either side. Wide rows let you cram more plants into less space. Without the spacing and paths in between, you can get up to 6 times more vegetables in a wide row than in a conventional single row.Wide rows act as their own mulch. They shade out weeds, keep the soil most and require less watering. . In areas with high humidity crowding of plants in dense plantings can exacerbate any too much moisture problems that you have. A very popular variation of this is called square foot gardening. I personally prefer using the same principals of SFG but in the wide bed configuration.

english style gardens
A very informal setup of a garden based upon english tea gardens. Flowers, herbs and veggies are all planted amongst one another in hopes of balancing out the insects both good and bad thus relieving the gardener of most tasks in the garden. On a bigger scale this style of garden would be going along the lines of permaculture.

four-Square gardens
The Pennsylvania Germans are credited with coming up with this garden layout . Four-square refers to the garden being divided into four equal parts with narrow paths in between. The beds themselves were usually raised slightly. Although we know them best as four-square, they can be divided into any number, to make the garden easier to maintain. The raised beds mean that you never walk on the planting soil, so it never gets compacted.Splitting the garden into sections is handy when it comes time to rotate your crops. If you choose to grow perennial crops, like asparagus and rhubarb, you can devote a bed to them, where they won’t be disturbed when you cultivate.The soil in raised beds drains better than level soil and it warms faster in the spring. Four-square gardens are semi-permanent structures, so if you plan to move or enlarge your garden, they’ll be more work.

lowered bed gardens
A lowered bed is much the same as a raised bed and intensive gardening, but, rather than building the soil up into a bed, you build the bed into the ground and make the entire bed slightly lower than the surrounding area. This method of gardening is highly recommended in areas of extreme dryness and drought because you can water directly into the lowered beds and then mulch to keep the moisture in.

Here are a few other methods of gardening that are not a system so much as a way of making the most out of your gardens.

vertical gardening
Vertical gardens are not so much a style of garden but more of a method of gardening within the garden itself. They tend to be associated with intensive garden systems but it doesn't mean they are limited to them. It will work in any garden system. Vertical gardening simply means using, trellises, ti-pi's, string , nets, cages or poles and growing upward rather than having the plants sprawling on the ground. This system will work with any vining or sprawling plants, but, it also means that the plants dry out quicker than they would if run along the ground.

Growing two or more types of vegetables, her bs or flowers in the same place at the same time is known as inter-planting. Proper planning is essential to obtain high production and increased quality of the crops planted.To successfully plan an inter-planted garden the following factors must be taken into account for each plant. The length of the plant's growth period, its growth pattern , possible negative effects on other plants, preferred season, and light, nutrient and moisture requirements. Inter-planting can be accomplished by alternating rows within a bed by mixing plants within a row, or by distributing various species throughout the bed. Often times people inter-plant herbs and flowers amongst the crops because of the benefits. Again this method sort of goes back to the English tea gardens and perma-culture but will work in any type system of gardening.

succession and relay planting
Succession planting is an excellent way to make the most of an intensive garden. To obtain a succession of crops, plant something new in spots vacated by spent plants. Corn after peas is a type of succession. Planting a spring, summer, and fall garden is another form of succession planting. Cool season crops (broccoli, lettuce, peas) are followed by warm season crops (beans, tomatoes, peppers), and where possible, these may be followed by more cool season plants, or a winter cover crop. Relaying is another common practice, consisting of overlapping plantings of one type of crop. The new planting is made before the old one is removed. For instance, sweet corn may be planted at 2-week intervals for a continuous harvest.

Friday, December 11, 2009

"cathead" biscuits

I love me some good biscuits on cold wintry mornings, unfortunately most recipes I have ever come across are horrible for one reason or another. More often than not, they would have been better suited as hockey pucks than food and I am a pretty darn good cook. Because all of our winter cooking is on the wood stove it also presents another challenge of being able to cook proper.Not too done on the bottom while not being goo on the tops can be an issue with many recipes . When I find a recipe that suits what I need I tend to modify it, keep it and use it. So here is my modified recipe for cathead biscuits.

  • 2 1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1 Cup milk or there about
  • 5 Tablespoons salted Butter
Mix all dry ingredients ,chop in the butter, make a well in center of bowl and add milk. Mix just until most of the mixture is moist. Flour hands and kneed the dough a few times. Make into ball and break off 2-3 inch balls of dough. Squish them out a bit to make 4-5 inch circle. Place in lightly greased hot cast iron skillet or dutch oven and place a dome lid over the pan, one that fits tightly is best. Cook until done. Takes mine about 20 -25 minutes on the stove top. In an oven i would say 15 minutes at 425 would do. Serve hot with your favorite biscuit toppers. Recipe makes about 6 large biscuits

Thursday, December 10, 2009

indoor garden update

Been harvesting collards and mustard greens a couple times of week in the loft and a time or two a week from the greenhouse and what is outside. Yes we eat a lot of green stuff this time of year.

Have lost a few more plants to the vermin up in the loft but that problem should be solved now in a timely fashion. We finally broke down and bought poison and whatever is up there took the tray and all last night.

The remaining tomato is starting to flower now and we have eaten the first few beans off one of the plants. The okra is starting to come up as are the next round of peas I planted the other day. I also am starting a few cabbage plants to see what I can or can't make them do.

Tonight in the gh I had to have both the hoop houses and additional covers for the first time. It is very likely to get down into the single digits, so it will be interesting to see how things work out. Last week it got down in the low 20's and I hadn't covered the turnips,they were looking pretty rough for a few days afterward.
photojournal of the indoor garden

good grub

Here are some of our latest eats off the wood stove. veggie cheeseburgers with store bought gmo goodness rolls and cheese slices along side some sweet potato chips.We had this on shopping day and I knew I had forgotten to take rolls out of the freezer.Kitchen sink soup, was very good with the appalachian cat head biscuits I made. The left over biscuits from tonite will be used for bacon gravy and bicuits in the morning.The beef stew and dumplings from the other night and the almost fried apple pies.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

basic aquaponics systems

Aquaponics is the integration of hydroponics and aquaculture, a sort of symbiotic relationship between the plants and the fish. The fish provide food for the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish...Many folks raise cat fish or tilapia in the fish tanks thus providing yet another source of food for the table. Aquaponics is basically a closed system, meaning nothing really needs to be done other than the basics of it in order for it to sustain itself. It provides itself with everything...

This is something i have been fairly interested in for a few years and each year it makes it to my goals list but never seems to actually get done. There is a good side to this though because the longer it takes for us to accomplish, the more I get to research and find a solution that we could work with.

Our needs are not much here therefore any system of anything we put in must also be very basic. It must be able to be made with either recycled or very, very cheap materials.. It needs to be able to run on minimal power sources and should also be able to run on a cheap, simple and very small solar set up if need be..

After much research and net searching I have finally found what (don't tell manthing) sort of system I would like to build, barrelponics . Basically a small aquaponic system done with plastic drums, which we happen to have a few of.

Here are free down loadable e-books on the subject of aquaponics and an e book on barrelponics that goes into detail on how to build your own system. Here is a video on this same system.

Here is a system set up by an internet acquaintance that is quite simple but very doable for a beginner It is an excellent size set up for patios and urban setting set setting
patio aqua garden

There are many different systems out there. Some more basic than this set up and some that are very large and are actual working farms. Here is a neat video on urban aquaponics, part of a series (which are all good to watch).

Make your own oil lamp

We've all seen the kind of oil lamps that you can buy at drug and department stores and the pretty colored oils that you can get to go with it, but did you ever think about making one yourself? It's very simple, much easier than making a candle and much brighter too.

Make a small decorative oil lamp out of an empty glass bottle with screw-on metal lid. It's cheap, easy, and possibly romantic. Actually the possibilities of what you can make these out of is endless. From slicing open a tin can (not exactly kid friendly) to an old soda or wine bottle to baby food or spaghetti sauce jars to a mug or even a bowl. If it will hold liquid it can be made into a crude lamp.

Wicks can range from a conventional wick that you purchase to a piece of old cotton or linen cut down . In a pinch you can also use paper towel as a wick..

The great thing about oil lamps like this is you can use leftover cooking oil, sure some oils give off a little odor, but I find that things like canola and olive oil are virtually odor free. Vegetable and peanut oil also work well. Lard even works but does stink some. I have even read of where people press their sunflower seed, pecans and acorns for the oils in order to use them. Another great thing about using cooking oil is, if somehow you knock it over, it will extinguish the flame unlike candles that can start fires.

If you want to get creative with your lamps, infuse the oils with herbs or fragrances. Dye the oils or even put trinkets and other doodads down in the jar cover with water then add your oil, add a bow or some lace and wallah. (these can make some nice cheap personalized gifts ).

here are a couple different versions of basically the same thing. Use your imagination, be creative and have fun... (these can make some nice personalized gifts ).

Here are a couple different how to's on making the lamps.

cheese from powdered milk

I try and test out any new to me recipes I come across before posting them for the world. I enjoy good food and wouldn't want to recommend something I found gross to others. For a change I am going to bend my own rules. I can do that, however, I must make a confession.

I completely screwed the recipe up but being me decided to try the recipe any way and see how it came out. I some how managed to not see that the recipe called for buttermilk. So i made it how I would normally make it but instead of the amount of water called for in the recipe I added a cup of extra water. The rest of the recipe I followed exactly.

When the rubber, er I mean cheese was done, rinsed, drained, set to mold for a spell and then tested for taste, it reminded me of eating a rubber cement ball back in elementary school. Don't look at me like that I know we have all done it.

I then decided perhaps my cheese type rubber product would shred or slice so I grated it up to dry and we will see how bad it truly is this evening with the enchiladas we are having for dinner. I have got to say that while my end product was pretty horrible, it did resemble something like string cheese while it was still warm, so it wasnt all together horrible. It squeaks like fresh cheese curd too.

I do not know what the recipe would actually turn out like if made proper. I would like to imagine it would turn out well but after my FAIL I doubt I will try this again. The first reason is if you are having to use powder milk to make cheese , why on earth would you have buttermilk to use but no real milk. Secondly, the recipe makes very little cheese and lastly it is not very economical to make. For what it takes to make a couple cups of cheese a person could raise a goat or two for a week.This simply makes no sense to me. Alas, I will still post the recipe since I have been asked if one could make cheese from powdered milk. My own answer to that would be no, but you can make good for you edible bouncy balls for children with it. Maybe I can dye them pretty colors and market them in gumball machines.


2 cups boiling water

1-1/2 cups dry milk powder

3 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk

3-4 Tbsps lemon juice

Blend water, milk and oil, allowing foam to settle slightly. If colored cheese is desired, add 1/2 tablet cheese coloring (or cake decorating paste color) while blending. Pour into hot saucepan coated with a nonstick spray and heat to at least 160 degrees. Add lemon juice and continue to stir until mix curdles.

Pour into a cheesecloth lined colander. Rinse curds with warm water, then salt to taste. Place cheese in cloth between two plates or spoon into a cheese press. Apply weight and let sit for 1/2 hour or longer, depending on how firm you want the cheese to be. Remove from plates or cheese press,rinse, wrap in plastic and refrigerate. Use within one month or freeze. This cheese can be sliced, grated, or crumbled. For Smoky Cheese, add 1/2 tsp. Liquid Smoke flavoring and 1/2 - 1 tsp. salt after rinsing curds.

If you try that recipe and really enjoy it why not make some cottage cheese. OH WOW, I just realized I made the "cottage cheese"... NONONO this is not a good recipe for cottage cheese but here it is as well.. ENJOY!
cottage cheese

Soft Cottage Cheese

2 c hot water

1 1/2 c dry milk powder

3 Tbsp Fresh lemon juice or white vinegar

Blend water and dry milk and pour into saucepan (foam and all). Sprinkle lemon juice or vinegar slowly around edges and gently stir over medium heat just until milk begins to curdle. separating into curds and whey. Remove from heat and let rest one minute. Pour into strainer or colander, rinse with hot, then cold water. Press out water with back of spoon. Makes about 1- 1/2 cup curds. If desired, moisten rinsed curds with a little buttermilk before serving and add salt to taste. Refrigerate if not used immediately. Whey from fresh milk powder can be used in place of water in breads and soups.

Monday, December 7, 2009

worm composting or vermicomposting

worms naturally
regenerate the soil’s lost nutrients
Stimulate microbial activity
Mix and aggregate soil
Increase infiltration of water into the soil
Improve water-holding capacity
Provide root growth channels
Shred and bury plant residue
Aerate the soil and
tempt fish to bite hooks!

Worm composting is using worms to recycle food scraps and other organic material into a valuable soil amendment called vermicompost, or worm castings. Worms eat food scraps, which become compost as they pass through the worm's body. Compost exits the worm through its' tail end. This compost can then be used to grow plants. (worm castings and tea are known to be a natural insecticide, fungicide and liquid fertilizer) To understand why vermicompost is good for plants, remember that the worms are eating nutrient-rich fruit and vegetable scraps, and turning them into nutrient-rich compost. Vermiculture, requires very little work, produces no offensive odors, and helps plants thrive. Only a few things are needed to make good worm compost: a bin, bedding, worms, and worm food.

types of worm bins

Your bin needs to be only 8″-16″ deep, since compost worms are surface feeders. You can build your own bin, use a washtub, a dish pan, a used shipping crate, or a commercially available worm bin. Just be sure your bin has a lid to keep out flies and rodents, and holes in the bottom a quarter inch or smaller, for ventilation and drainage. The rule of thumb for bin size is two square feet of surface area per person, or one square foot of surface area per pound of food waste per week. Because worms like moderate temperatures, place your bin in a shady location where it will not freeze or overheat. Here are some good choices: kitchen corner, garage, basement, patio, outside back door, laundry room.

There are different methods of making worm bins.Research a bit and find out what is the right option for you.

Here I basically use the top version of the bins. However on the bottom bin i put a little spigot instead of the lower tray to collect the vermi liquid so that I can open the valve and get the liquid off the bin in order to make a tea .


Once you decide on what sort of bin you will use(the most work of it all), then you will need to give them lil wigglers some bedding.

Black and white newspaper is the most readily available and easy-to-use bedding material.Old leaves is also a good starter in the bin. Tear it into strips about one inch wide and moisten so it is as damp as a wrung-out sponge. A handful or two of soil, ground limestone, or well-crushed eggshells every few months are good for providing grit and calcium. Fill your bin with moistened bedding, toss in a few handfuls of soil, and you are ready to add the worms and food. Over time, the bedding and food are eaten by the worms and turned into dark worm compost.


The best kind of worms for composting are “red worms,” or “red wigglers.” They are often found in old compost piles, but are different from the earthworms you would normally find in the ground. These worms have a big appetite, reproduce quickly, and thrive in confinement. They can eat more than their own weight in food every day! When purchasing red worms, one pound is all you need to get started.

You do not need to special order your worms. If you dont have an outdoor compost pile to scavenge them from, head to your local bait shop or even chinamart in the fishing and hunting section.

Feeding the worms

Worms like to eat many of the same things we eat, only they aren’t so picky. Stale bread, apple cores, orange peels, lettuce trimmings, coffee grounds, and non-greasy leftovers are just some of the food worms love that we usually discard.

Do compost: vegetable scraps, fruit peelings, bread and grains, tea bags, non-greasy leftovers, coffee grounds and filters, well-crushed eggshells.

Do not compost: meat, bones, fats, dairy products, rubber bands, twigs and branches, dog and cat feces, greasy foods.

Begin feeding your worms only a little at a time. As they multiply, you can add larger quantities of food wastes. Bury the waste into the bedding regularly, rotating around the bin as you go. When you return to the first spot, most of the food you buried there should have been eaten. If not, don’t worry. Just feed the worms less for a while.

trouble shooting

Worms Dying. If your worms are dying there could be several causes. It may be that they are not getting enough food, which means you should bury food into the bedding. They may be too dry, in which case you should moisten the box until it is slightly damp. They may be too wet, in which case you should add bedding. The worms may be too hot, in which case you should put the bin in the shade. Or, it could be the case that the bedding is eaten, and it is time to add fresh bedding.

Bin Smells. If your bin smells rotten and/or attracts flies, there may be three causes. First, it may be that there is not enough air circulation. In this case, add dry bedding under and over the worms, and do not feed them for two weeks. Second, there may be non-compostables present such as meat, pet feces, or greasy food. These should be removed. Third, there may be exposed food in the bin. In this case, secure the lid, cover food scraps with bedding, and cover worms and bedding with a sheet of plastic.

Harvesting Your Worm Compost

After you have been feeding your worms for three to six months, you may notice the bedding has been eaten, and you can begin harvesting the brown, crumbly worm compost. Harvesting the compost and adding fresh bedding at least twice a year is necessary to keep your worms health

Methods for harvesting your compost

Move the contents of your worm bin to one side, place fresh bedding in the empty space and bury your food wastes there for a month or so. Harvest the other side after the worms have migrated to the new food and bedding.

Spread a sheet of plastic out under a bright light or in the sun. Dump the contents of the worm box into a number of piles on the sheet. The worms will crawl away from the light into the center of each pile and you can brush away the worm compost on the outside by hand. Soon you will have wriggling piles of worms surrounded by donut-shaped piles of worm compost.

using your compost

To mulch with worm compost, apply a one-inch layer to the soil around plants. Be sure the worm compost is not piled against plant stems. To amend soil, worm compost can be spread one-half to two inches thick over garden soil and mixed in before planting, or mixed into the bottom of seeding trenches or transplanting holes.

Houseplants: Sprinkle worm compost around the base of plants to fertilize. Each time you water, plant nutrients will seep into the soil.

Potting Mixes: For healthy seedlings, mix one part worm compost with three parts potting mix or three parts sand and soil combined. Peat moss, perlite, and worm castings are also good ingredients to add.

Making tea from the vermiliquid

For home use, teas can be applied to flowers, perennials, turf, roses, shrubs, trees and vegetables from a hand sprayer at a dilution ratio of one part fresh, undiluted tea to five parts water, applied once per week. The tea can be applied more or less frequently or at a lower dilution ratio as needed based on performance.

why worm cast tea is great for plants

Living microbes and beneficial plant-growth compounds go right to work when worm casting tea is applied to soil or plant leaves.Worm castings are one of the best organic fertilizers with a neutral pH and a high nutrient content of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.Because it increases the complexity and diversity of organisms in the root zone, it helps fight diseases and pests and boosts the plant's natural immune system. It will not burn the most delicate plants.
Because it is watersoluble it begins feeding the plant immediately.

composting (bins, piles, cans and heaps)

Compost is one of nature's best mulches and soil amendments, and you can use it instead of commercial fertilizers. Best of all, compost is cheap. You can make it without spending a cent. Using compost improves soil structure, texture, and aeration and increases the soil's water-holding capacity. Compost loosens clay soils and helps sandy soils retain water. Adding compost improves soil fertility and stimulates healthy root development in plants. The organic matter provided in compost provides food for microorganisms, which keeps the soil in a healthy, balanced condition. Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus will be produced naturally by the feeding of microorganisms, so few if any soil amendments will need to be added.

Most gardeners have long understood the value of this rich, dark, earthy material in improving the soil and creating a healthful environment for plants. Understanding how to make and use compost is in the public interest, as the problem of waste disposal climbs toward a crisis level. Landfills are brimming, and new sites are not likely to be easily found. For this reason there is an interest in conserving existing landfill space and in developing alternative methods of dealing with waste. Don't throw away materials when you can use them to improve your lawn and garden! Start composting instead.

Compost is the end product of a complex feeding pattern involving hundreds of different organisms, including bacteria, fungi, worms, and insects. What remains after these organisms break down organic materials is the rich, earthy substance your garden will love. Composting replicates nature's natural system of breaking down materials

Humus is our goal when we start composting. By providing the right environment for the organisms in the compost pile, it is possible to produce excellent compost. We usually want to organize and hasten Mother Nature's process. By knowing the optimum conditions of heat, moisture, air, and materials, we can speed up the composting process. Besides producing more good soil faster, making the compost faster creates heat which will destroy plant diseases and weed seeds in the pile or bin.

making a bin, pile or garbage can composter

There are many different commercially available composters on the market. My motto is why pay for something that I can make myself either from materials on the homestead laying around or by purchasing a few cheap items to build my own. Therefore, I am not going any further with commercially available compost bins and will focus more on home made bins in this post.

Some gardeners lash together four pallets, leaving one corner loosely attached to act as a door. Others install posts in four corners, nail the pallets to the posts to form three sides of the bin, and wire the last pallet with some slack to allow access.

Make a simple, three-sided bin by stacking concrete or cinder blocks. Leave the fourth side open for turning the pile or for access to the finished compost.

Wire mesh bins can also be made. Simply make a circle shape out of the wire and place compost materials inside the circle you have made. Ones I have tried in this way always fall over and are quite a pain in the butt.

A simple pile in an out of the way spot works well if you have large amounts of materials to add to your pile. This is a slower method but if you have tons of compost then waiting for it to compost is not a big issue. We actually use two piles here. One for already cooked compost and one pile we are currently adding to. This gives us a constant supply of compost in large amounts and is pretty maintenance free.

For those that would like to compost in small amounts and are looking for something cheap and easy to make, i personally suggest the garbage barrel composter. following is a very simple plan , kids like them too because they can help in the process and not get disgustingly gross n nasty yet still learn the processes and it is hands on learning.

Types of composting

Passive composting is the route to go when you have plenty of time to allow things to decompose or have plenty of barnyard critters to help you in the process . Passive composting involves the least amount of time and energy on your part. This is done by collecting organic materials in a freestanding pile. It might take a long time (a year or two), but eventually organic materials in any type of a pile will break down into finished compost. Add grass clippings, leaves, and kitchen scraps (always cover these with 8" of other material). The pile will shrink quickly as the materials compress and decompose. Wait a year or two before checking the bottom of the bin for finished compost. When it's ready, shovel the bottom section into a wheelbarrow and add it to your garden beds. Continue to add greens and browns to have a good supply of finished compost at the ready. After the first few years, most simple piles produce a few cubic feet of finished compost yearly.

Managed composting

Managed composting involves active participation, ranging from turning the pile occasionally to a major commitment of time and energy. If you use all the techniques of managing the pile, you can get finished compost in 3-4 weeks. Choose the techniques that reflect how much you want to intervene in the decomposition process and that will be a function of how fast you want to produce compost.

The speed with which you produce finished compost will be determined by how you collect materials, whether you chop them up, how you mix them together, and so on. Achieving a good balance of carbon and nitrogen is easier if you build the pile all at once. Layering is traditional, but mixing the materials works as well. Shredded organic materials heat up rapidly, decompose quickly, and produce a uniform compost. The decomposition rate increases with the size of the composting materials. If you want the pile to decay faster, chop up large fibrous materials.

You can add new materials on an ongoing basis to an already established pile. Most single-bin gardeners build an initial pile and add more ingredients on top as they become available.

The temperature of the managed pile is important, it indicates the activity of the decomposition process. The easiest way to track the temperature inside the pile is by feeling it. If it is warm or hot, everything is fine. If it is the same temperature as the outside air, the microbial activity has slowed down and you need to add more nitrogen (green) materials such as grass clippings, kitchen waste, or manure.Turning or aerating your pile is a must in managed composting.

Highly managed composting

The following is for the highly managed pile and the optimum finished compost in the shortest amount of time. Decomposition occurs most efficiently when the temperature inside the pile is between 104 degrees F and 131 degrees F. Compost thermometers are available at garden shops and nurseries. It is best not to turn the pile while it is between these temperatures, but rather when the temperature is below 104 degrees F or above 131 degrees F. This keeps the pile operating at its peak. Most disease pathogens die when exposed to 131 degrees for 10-15 minutes, though some weed seeds are killed only when they're heated to between 140 degrees and 150 degrees. If weed seeds are a problem, let the pile reach 150 degrees during the first heating period, then drop back down to the original temperature range. Maintaining temperatures above 131 degrees can kill the decomposing microbes.

What to compost

Ashes, wood (in small amounts)
Cardboard, shredded
Corn stalks
Fruit waste
Newspaper, shredded
Peanut shells
Peat moss
Pine needles
Stems and twigs, shredded
Vegetable stalks Alfalfa
Coffee grounds
Food waste(no meat, bones, dairy)
Garden waste
Grass clippings
Hedge clippings
Hops, used
Vegetable scraps
*Avoid weeds that have gone to seed, as seeds may survive all but the hottest compost piles.
few if any soil amendments will need to be added.

what not to compost

Coal Ash - Most ashes are safe to mix into your compost pile, but coal ashes are not. They contain sulfur and iron in amounts high enough to damage plants.

Colored Paper

Diseased Plants - It takes an efficient composting system and ideal conditions (extreme heat) to destroy many plant diseases. If the disease organisms are not destroyed they can be spread later when the compost is applied. Avoid questionable plant materials

Inorganic Materials - This stuff won't break down and includes aluminum foil, glass, plastics and metals. Pressure-treated lumber should also be avoided because it's treated with chemicals that could be toxic in compost (see Safety Concerns Cut Down Treated Lumber).

Meat, Bones, Fats, Dairy - These products can "overheat" your compost pile (not to mention make it stinky and attract animals). They are best avoided.

Pet Droppings - Dog or cat droppings contain several disease organisms and can make compost toxic to handle. For those with pets and wanting to compost

Synthetic Chemicals - Certain lawn and garden chemicals (herbicides - pesticides) can withstand the composting process and remain intact in the finished compost. Poisons have no place in the natural micro-community of your compost pile.

beginner gardening

The next part of gardening involves figuring out where to place your bed or beds. Once again there are many things to take into consideration. The last of which is soil condition . That is the one and only thing with gardening that is relatively easy to change and fix. Everything else is pretty set in stone once you decide where the garden is going to be.

The first and foremost thing to consider when planning where your gardens will be is the amount of sunlight the area gets. This is especially crucial if you plan to grow vegetables over the winter. You will want a spot that gets at least six hours of sunlight each day. If they don't get enough light, they won't bear as much and they'll be more susceptible to attack from insects or diseases. If you live in an area where the temperatures are milder, then you will want a garden that gets its maximum sunlight in the morning. If the summers are hot where you live, look for an area that gets some afternoon shade. A spot facing south is generally best. After you pick your garden spot, watch it for a few days to see how much sun it gets and that it is a suitable spot. If you don't have a spot in full sun, you can still grow many leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach and if you're in a hot-summer climate, cool-season varieties such as peas may do better in part shade. For help in figuring out the amount of sun an area gets, make a sun chart.

The next thing I would look at is water, not just in the availability of it but also drainage of your garden spot. Plants need well drained soil. They will not do well if every time it rains there is 6 inches of rain water puddling in the bed. This won't just bring you plant trouble but also bug and disease issues. A good way to test drainage is by soaking the soil with a hose, waiting a day, then digging up a handful of soil. Squeeze the soil hard. If water streams out, you'll need to add compost or organic matter to improve it as the drainage is poor. As much as plants don't like living in puddles, most also do not do well with drought.If you want your garden to produce in bountiful supply, it will need lots of water, so be sure your plot is close to a reliable water source. The last thing you want to do is to carry many buckets of water to your garden every day. Ask me how i know this .

Success in the garden starts with the soil. Most vegetables do best in moist, well-drained soil that's rich in organic matter. To get the best idea of what sort of soil you are starting with go back to the soil drainage test and pick up another hand full of soil . Next, open your hand. If the soil hasn't formed a ball, or if the ball falls apart at the slightest touch, your soil is probably sandy. (Add organic matter to improve sandy soil.) If the ball holds together even if you poke it fairly hard, you have too much clay in your soil. (Organic matter improves clay soil, too.) If the ball breaks into crumbs when you poke it, your soil is ideal. I would also suggest soil samples before planting, but will go more into that later.

Now is the time to start composting your own kitchen scraps, making a compost pile and looking for local sources of organic material to add to your gardens. Check with local farms, your municipality and in the newspaper for compost that is either for sale or being given away. Many towns and cities now have composting facilities and you can get the compost for next to nothing. Your garden adventure should not cost you an arm and half of your leg to get going. Place a craigs list ad or a free cycle ad in search of cheap or free if you load, compost. If you have room for a couple of bunnies they can be a great fertilizer source for your garden. Unlike most animal dung, bunny poop can go directly on beds. Setting up a worm bin is also cheap and easy to do and has many great benefits for your garden. Think about ways that you can make your own amendments on site rather than relying on a store to supply them for you . The more you can do for yourself the better off you and yours will be.

Next up will be working on the garden beds.

monday's mountain musings

Things are always interesting no matter how dull or sedate life seems to be. Just when ya think you may perhaps lead the most unexciting life in the world something comes along and entirely screws that up. After a highly uneventful most of the week we were lucky enough to have two days of near monumental excitement for at least 5 minutes each day.

Saturday morning we went to feed the animals when I noticed the fence to the chickens and bunnies was ripped open and one of my hens was missing. The bunnies and remaining hens we very upset and we were disappointed that the only fur on the fence belonged to one of our dogs.He is great with the goats but for some reason every now and again he has a horrible lapse of judgment, common sense or something and decides he needs to have a chicken dinner. Thankfully he only does this about once a year and we normally catch him before he commits his crime.

Yesterday morning we went to feed the animals when captain bravo(aka ohno, f***tard or black rat bassturd) found him self a juvenile coon in the feed shed and he was going to kill it. The captain doesn't have this name for nothing, for a twenty pound dog he has absolutely no fear. For this reason I am glad he is as small as he is as I have felt the damage he can do first hand. Manthing grabbed a stick and pinned him down while I went in and held the dog and snuffed him out with my foot. Felt bad having to do it but unfortunately sometimes the wildlife forgets they are wild and come invade our boring life and unfortunately the two just don't mix well. I really wanted to skin the bugger but manthing was there apologizing to it for what we had done as he dug the hole for his little body so I dropped my idea of skinning him up.

Now for the good accomplishments of the week. We think we almost got the pack rat issue cleared up. Now the chewing is at a level where we can atleast sleep with only minor interruptions. It only took two weeks of sealing up every dang nook and cranny we could, a couple of which were done at 10 pm. There is still something up in the loft where the garden is becuase it continues mowing my plants down up there. Yesterdays mow victim was on of my tomato plants. It was nice of him to leave the bottom couple of inches of the plant though as it has a couple leaves already forming just below the chop line. I also lost a few bean plants this week to it as well as a few other small plants. This is all being done with four traps set in the plants them selves. Sneaky little devils. I am persistent though and just keep reseeding and plotting against the tiny vermin, I will win this battle.

I so enjoy winter cooking ,it seems to be much more laid back than cooking at other times of the year. Maybe it is because we already have the wood cut and ready and the fire is already made so there is no extra work involved. Maybe it is because I can start meals early in the day and allow them to cook all day, do what I have to do , relax and dinner is ready. I made some really good meals this week, the best of which was a dang good veggie beef stew with dumplings with some almost baked or almost fried apple pies.

1 pound stew meat (cut tiny)
one large onion diced
one bulb garlic (chopped)
4 cups assorted veggies(carrots, taters,parsnips, peas, and corn)
10 cups water
1/4 cup vegemite
1 cup coffee
2 tsp cocoa
1 tbsp salt
pepper to taste

coat chopped meat with flour and brown. Add onions , garlic,all other veggies seasonings an water. Bring to boil then simmer for an hour or there about. Thicken as needed and bring back to boil. Put dumplings in and cook 20 minutes. Serve

3 cups flour
1/4 cups baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
dash of salt
1 cup (there about)water or milk

Sunday, December 6, 2009

planning a garden

This will be a several post long series on the basics of gardening. I will go through what I think is important in the planning, planting and harvesting of a successful garden for the first time gardener.

Gardening is not rocket science, however it is a bit more than throwing seeds in the ground, letting them grow and harvesting your produce. Gardening and growing your own food can also seem like an overwhelming task to someone that has never done it . For those that are new to the idea or practice of gardening here are what I consider the important things to consider before beginning to garden.

First and foremost one must consider what sort of gardener you would like to be. By this I mean several things. Do you want to grow organically or do you want to use chemicals? Do you want to grow heirloom varieties or do you want hybrids? How much work are you willing to do in your garden and how much time are you willing to spend doing that work? What are your plans for your garden? Are you just supplementing your food or do you want to grow as much as you can to be able to preserve as much as you can? What kind of room do you have for a garden? Are containers the only option you have or is square foot or intensive gardening also a choice? Is conventional till gardening more your style?

Once you answer these simple questions you can then begin the second step of the gardening process. This step is learning and researching. Every region has a different climate and different soil. While you can control some of your environmental surroundings, your best bet is to take the advice of somebody who knows.

I would suggest getting in touch with your local cooperative extension service
. Most counties in the U.S. have an Extension Service with volunteers ready to answer any of the questions posed to them at no charge.They also offer soil testing and other services for a small fee. Often times they also have a gardening club that has sales and trades through out the year. They are a great resource for you to use.

Most nursery employees are knowledgeable about the plants they sell, so don't be afraid to ask questions while shopping This is what they are there to do. they should also know and sell plants and seed stock that are known to do well in your given area. If you go to a nursery and the people have no clue then I would go and find another nursery.

Speak with the elders in you community. Even if they do not garden or haven't had a garden in many years, more often than not they have planted, grown and harvested their fair share of vegetables. Not having a home garden is a concept that is only 40 or so years old. Not only may you learn a lot from them, you could make yourself a good friend in the process.

Most every big city has at least one gardening guru with a regular newspaper column or radio show. Keep up with them to get the latest news on regional trends and tips as well as keep up with sale or trade sessions coming up.

Read, read, read. Notice I did not say buy, buy, buy. Books are a great resource to have and the occasional one is great to buy, however, near all are selling something or many somethings. No one needs a book telling them how to make pretty soil sitting forever more on their bookshelf. If you must buy books, then purchase ones that actually serve a purpose and will always serve a purpose. Through reading we gain knowledge but by doing we gain experience.